Asian cinema: Hong Kong film
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Model Louise Wong plays Canto-pop star Anita Mui in the upcoming biopic Anita.

Anita Mui biopic paints a loving portrait of Canto-pop superstar and features vivid period details of 1980s and 90s Hong Kong

  • Anita revisits the close relationships that Mui formed with her family, friends and protégés and cements her stature as a Hong Kong legend
  • The film is a pet project of Bill Kong, the boss of major Hong Kong film company Edko Films, who was a long-time friend and admirer of Mui

The late, great Canto-pop singer Anita Mui Yim-fong gets the big-budget biopic treatment her status deserves with the simply titled Anita, a new Hong Kong film tentatively scheduled for theatrical release in 2021.

One of the last generational superstars in the city’s entertainment industry when she died from cervical cancer on December 30, 2003, Mui was revered not just for her talent and charisma on stage and screen, but also for her big-hearted personality, which saw her contribute to charitable ventures and participate in social activism. In the process the singer touched both her legion of fans and society at large.

A lavish biopic, Anita revisits the close relationships Mui formed with her family, friends and protégés and cements her stature as a Hong Kong legend. It is written and directed by Longman Leung Lok-man, the former art director best known for co-directing the blockbuster Cold War action film series.

Making her screen debut as Anita Mui is the 31-year-old Hong Kong model Louise Wong – a casting decision years in the making for the production team. She leads an ensemble cast that includes quite a few other intriguing choices.

Two of Mui’s best friends are portrayed by Louis Koo Tin-lok and Lam Ka-tung; Koo stars as Eddie Lau Pui-kei, the fashion designer who famously served as Mui’s image consultant, while Lam plays So Hau-leung, the pianist and veteran arts administrator.

Hong Kong-based Malaysian actress Fish Liew Tsz-yu plays Ann Mui Oi-fong, Anita’s older sister. Emerging actor Terrance Lau Chun-him, who appeared in 2019 film Beyond the Dream, portrays Mui’s buddy and fellow superstar Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing.
Bill Kong is the producer of, and biggest investor in, Anita. Photo: Winson Wong

The film is something of a pet project for Bill Kong Chi-keung, the boss of major Hong Kong film company Edko Films and the influential producer behind such contemporary classics as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. As the producer of, and biggest investor in, Anita, Kong was still full of gratitude when he spoke of an early encounter with Mui during a recent interview with the Post.

Back in 1986, when Edko Films was still a small distribution company and Mui already the hottest new Canto-pop star on the scene, Kong invited the singer to help his company promote a niche Japanese movie they had acquired – and Mui agreed even without going over her salary.

She duly showed up at the event in New Town Plaza, Sha Tin, to promote The Adventures of Milo and Otis, and the film’s box office success would pave the way for Edko’s own meteoric rise.

In my mind, apart from telling Mui’s story, we’re also telling the story of Hong Kong
Anita director Longman Leung

“It was one of the reasons that film did so well in Hong Kong,” says Kong, referring to Mui’s readiness to help out those in need. “I am really thankful for her. She saved us; we were a small company. I will remember this forever. That was a most touching experience for me, because she was a big star and I was nobody.”

The idea of a Mui biopic was planted in the back of Kong’s head when the pop icon approached him in 2003 for a film role, only to die of cancer before the project could come to fruition.

“In May 2003, Mui called me one day and asked me out for lunch in Hong Kong Parkview. She arrived right on time,” Kong recalls with a smile.

Mui with Leslie Cheung in 1986. Photo: SCMP

“She told me, ‘Bill, I want to make a good movie. I want to make a movie that stays on [in people’s minds]. Can you find me an opportunity?’” Kong was riding high on the immense success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero at the time, and the producer quickly lined her up to be the number one female lead in Zhang Yimou’s next project, House of Flying Daggers. “I called Mui and she was so happy.”

A couple of days later, contracts were already signed and the deposit was paid – the only certain sign in this business that a big star is committed to your project.

Mui was so excited about the film that she publicly declared at a press event she would soon go into production for it. But her untimely death in December that year put a halt to it all.

Wong as Mui in two of the teaser posters released for the film Anita.

“Over the years, [I kept telling myself,] ‘I owe her a movie. I owe her a movie,’” says Kong. “Some people said to me, ‘Who would make a biopic so soon [after someone died]? Let’s wait for 50 years or so.’ But that’s not the type of film I want to make for Mui. She was a big inspiration for me; even up to this day, I’m still behaving as a person in the way she taught me.”

The producer says the decision to greenlight the project is not based on commercial considerations. “If I did this to make money, I shouldn’t have done it. Even the best biopic movies in the West failed to turn a profit. So in a way, Anita didn’t start as a commercial decision, but rather an emotional decision [for us] to give back to Mui.”

For Leung, the director, who was first approached by Kong in late 2015, the period details and biographical components of Anita have made it a most meticulous filmmaking experience. “I could have made three movies with the amount of work I put into Anita,” he says – and he is not joking.

Longman Leung directs Anita. Photo: Winson Wong

To accurately recreate the sights and sounds of a bygone Hong Kong, Leung and his crew not only secured rare opportunities to shoot some of the scenes in landmarks such as the Hong Kong Coliseum (right before its renovation) and Hong Kong Stadium, but sought to show popular locations such as Nathan Road, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay, and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade as they were back in the day.

“In my mind, apart from telling Mui’s story, we’re also telling the story of Hong Kong,” says Leung.

“This is really a record of Hong Kong from the 1980s and 90s. It was a glorious time to many of us, and we’re still nostalgic about it ... I think this film, about ‘Hong Kong’s daughter’, should be made by Hongkongers – with a Hong Kong actress and a Hong Kong crew – as a record for that era. You can’t put a price on this intention.”

Mui in 1992. Photo: SCMP

Kong is perhaps even more sentimental than his director about their subject. He says: “One of Mui’s famous quotes goes like this, ‘When you finish your dinner one day and see a star in the sky outside your window, I hope you’d remember a person named Anita Mui.’

“I’d say the main objective in making this film is to remind people of that person called Anita Mui.”

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